UK government Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's handling of NHS reforms in England has prompted an overwhelming 'no confidence' vote from nurses.
On 13 April 2011, delegates at the Royal College of Nursing conference in Liverpool voted 98.7 per cent in favour of the motion - 96 per cent if allowing for 13 abstentions.
The nurses are furious that Mr Lansley has refused to deliver a keynote speech to the conference, opting instead to meet a group of around 60 nurses in Liverpool as part of the government's "listening exercise" on the controversial reforms.
They say this is PR rather than listening.
For his part, the Health Secretary, who is due to arrive at the conference in the afternoon, appears unmoved by the almost unanimous dissent from a union and professional association usually seen as being more conservative than many others, say reporters.
In response to the RCN no confidence vote, Mr Lansley said that he is "listening" to the concerns expressed about the Health and Social Care Bill, but that it must go through because it is "vital".
"Nurses want further nurse involvement in decisions. So do I. I understand their concerns. We are listening to nurses and will make improvements," he declared.
Health Service Journal editor Alastair McLellan has suggested that some in the RCN leadership may be less than happy with the vote, feeling that it makes negotiations with the government more difficult, and that the British Medical Association (BMA) has handled things better.
But the BBC has suggested that, given public support for nurses, the 'no confidence' motion has ratcheted up pressure on the government.
Labour former spin-doctor Alastair Campbell says that whereas Margaret Thatcher was not for turning, "David Cameron is."
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing says that it is a myth that NHS frontline care and services are being protected by the government's programmes, and says cuts will lead to "fewer services, fewer nurses and a worse NHS".
Evidence from 21 NHS trusts in England showed 54 per cent of nearly 10,000 posts due to be cut are frontline clinical posts. The RCN also found that nursing posts account for 46 per cent of identified workforce cuts.
The findings put further pressure on the Government to say how patient services will be protected, as trusts in England alone aim to save £20 billion by 2015.
Dr Peter Carter, RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary, said clinical staff were the ‘lifeblood of the NHS’ but were haemorrhaging at an alarming rate.
He declared: “Many trusts are not being transparent by admitting to the proportion of clinical jobs being lost. From our research we now know the truth – the majority of job losses are frontline clinical jobs, the jobs that matter to patients.
“Cutting thousands of frontline doctors and nurses could have a catastrophic impact on patient safety and care. Our figures expose the myth that frontline staff and services are protected.”
The RCN’s Frontline First campaign has identified almost 40,000 NHS posts facing the axe over the next three years. While the RCN looked in detail at 21 trusts, it also studied intelligence from 130 NHS organisations in England.
Additionally, services that help keep patients out of hospital, save money and decrease the NHS’s burden are being closed. These include intermediate care for patients who have been discharged, a residential detoxifcation and treatment unit, and family nurse partnerships and community falls services.
Dr Carter added that patients are not getting the same care as they did a year ago.
He said: ‘We know savings need to be made but cutting frontline staff and services is not the way to do it. While we are in an interim phase with new structures taking place we are seeing many patient services which we fear may simply disappear forever.”